Ganesha is the most popular member of the Indian pantheon of mythological deities. Represented as a short, potbellied man with yellow skin, four arms, and an elephant’s head with one tusk, Ganesha is the second son of Shiva and Parvati (a form of Shakti). As with all the Indian gods, there are innumerable myths surrounding his creation and his role in the universe. He is the Lord of Obstacles, popularly worshipped as a remover of obstacles, although many stories have him both placing and removing obstacles.[i] Ganesha’s elephant head symbolizes his unstoppable power and auspiciousness, his rotund body and potbelly symbolize abundance, and the subservient rat he rides symbolizes the wisdom that arises in the sublimation of selfish desires. While these qualities might seem to be in contradiction to one another, Ganesha represents balance in spiritual and material life. Loving, forgiving, and moved by affection, he can be ruthless when combating evil. If loved and respected, Ganesha is said to grant all wishes and ensure a steady path to success.
[i]. There are hundreds of sources on Ganesha. Courtright (1985) provides a scholarly treatment of Ganesha that many purist Hindus have assiduously sought to have removed from circulation; Getty’s Ganesa (1936) is among the earliest introductions to Ganesha in the English language; Swami Chinmayananda (1987) offers a traditionalist interpretation that may have motivated Courtright’s work; a delightful rendition is found in Kapur’s Ganesha Goes to Lunch (2007).